Georgian Olympic luger Nodar Kumaritashvili has died after a crash during a training run on Friday at the Whistler Sliding Centre.
Kumaritashvili was averaging a speed of 144.3 km/h when he lost control of the sled near the end of his run and crashed into a metal pole on the side of the track.
Medical staff performed CPR and rushed the athlete to a hospital in a helicopter eight minutes after the accident.
“The whole Olympic Family is struck by this tragedy, which clearly casts a shadow over these Games,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said in a statement on Olympic.org earlier today.
The shock of the young Olympian’s death may force the Georgian team to withdraw from the Games entirely.
“We are all in deep shock; we don’t know what to do. We don’t know whether to take part in [today’s] opening ceremony or even the Olympic Games themselves,” Irakly Japaridze, the Georgian Olympic delegate, told Reuters.
The International Luge Federation has also responded to the tragic situation with sentiments going out to the entire sport of luge.
“This is a terrible accident,” Josef Fendt, president of the International Luge Federation, told Olympic.org. “This is the gravest thing that can happen in sport, and our thoughts and those of the ‘luge family’ are naturally with those touched by this event.”
The track, considered the world’s fastest, has had more than 10 crashes during the Olympic training. Earlier on Friday, gold-medal favourite Armin Zoeggeler of Italy lost control of his sled and crashed on Curve 11.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Olympian Shiva Keshavan of Kumaritashvili’s accident according to the Associated Press. “I’m afraid it’s bad.”
Americans Chris Mazdzer, Megan Sweeney, Tony Benshoof and Bengt Walden have also had accidents on the track.
“I think they are pushing it a little too much,” Australia’s Hannah Campbell-Pegg said on Thursday. “To what extent are we just little lemmings that they just throw down a track and we’re crash-test dummies? I mean, this is our lives.”
Canadian Mellisa Hollingsworth had stated before that she fears the Whistler Sliding Track. The skeleton racer crashed in almost every run and finished with a concussion, stitches, and bruises all around her body in a training session last March.
“All I could think about was, I am going to die if I go from the top,” Hollingsworth wrote in her blog. “I was terrified. Not nervous, absolutely petrified.”
Training has been suspended indefinitely and members of the International Luge Federation were called for a briefing.
This is the fifth athlete in summer and winter Olympic Games history to have died, two in competition and three in practice. They include two lugers, a downhill racer, a marathoner and a cyclist.